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Friday, November 17, 2017

Experiencing History at Calgary's Heritage Park and the Elephant in the Room

Previously, we toured the Canadian Rockies...catch up at that link.

And this link will take you to Part One of our Visit to Calgary

Darn. I have to finally get the rental car out of the parking lot for today's excursion. I was hoping I wouldn't have to drive again until we went to the airport but it is quicker, by far, to get to today's destination of Heritage Park by car rather than transit.

The reason I'm not so happy about that is that it requires me to transfer Tim into and out of the car, not to mention folding up his chair and fitting it into the hatch of our rental car. I can do it...I have been doing it mostly up in the mountains...but it does get tiring and takes its toll after awhile.

Watch the Video!

It's a bit cloudy and threatening but for the moment it's not raining. We take the drive to Heritage Park, find a spot to park, and head in.

I downloaded a two-for-one coupon at the hotel before leaving.  At the ticket window, I ask if they have any discounts for the disabled. I'm told no but a caregiver can go in for free so Tim and I get in for the price of one while Letty gets in for free.  We get to pay for one ticket for the three of us.

(As an aside, I've noticed that no one will volunteer that a discount is available at attractions while were here in Canada. Only when I've asked did I receive them. One lady at another attraction told me "you'd be surprised that no one asks for discounts." My response is "maybe you could volunteer that information?")

A plaza is next to the ticket booth with a restaurant, cafe, and a couple of shops. An automotive museum called Gasoline Alley is just inside the gate. It's about a quarter mile walk from here to the heart of the park. up a slight hill.

We walk up. There is also an accessible bus that will take you from here if your unable to.

At the top of the hill, there's a windmill, a train crossing, and a lake off to the left. Crossing the tracks, you are now in the village. It's kind of like a combination of Knott's Berry Farm and a museum.

It's possible to make a big loop and take it all in so we break to the left which takes us by some rentable party tents before getting to the antique midway.

Old rides, such as this caterpillar ride with wooden wheels, are available to ride on.

There's also a swing ride, a carousel, ferris wheel, and a few others.  None are accessible.

We watch for a few minutes before I see a station for the old steam engined train that makes a circuit around the park.

"Let's go see if that train is accessible," I tell Tim.

We see nothing to suggest it is, there's even a sign that strollers must left at the station.  I ask a gentleman working there if it is.

"No, it's an antique train and it's impossible to adapt it to wheelchairs," is his answer.

Now, we've been on plenty of antique trains south of the border that have very easily been adapted for wheeler with the addition of a portable lift at the station. This line of reasoning is not dealing with reality and points the way to assume that park management just isn't that creative when it comes to its disabled customer base.

We move on to the train shops and locomotive turntable, which are accessible, and check out some of the antique coaches and equipment stored within.

Back in the village, we find accessible points on the boardwalk and are able to go into a few of the shops but the majority are still inaccessible to wheelchairs.

It's not long before we're heading back down the hill.

We make a stop at Gasoline Alley which is completely wheelchair accessible and take in some marvelous pieces of automotive history.

The complex is named for a large row of restored antique gas pumps that you can wander down in addition to seeing the old autos and trucks.

This Cadillac is left unrestored so patrons can get a look at what the vehicles looked like before restoration.

A couple of Auburns take their place at the head of the large room.

A family wagon and travel trailer are on display in a special 'family vacation' exhibit.

We make our way out, and eventually back to Calgary when done. To address the elephant in the room, however, we do note that while Canada seems more progressive and inclusive for the most part than we are in the U.S., we continue to note that they seem to be a few years behind us in inclusion for those with handicaps.

This visit to Heritage Park brings it home for us, much of this park can easily be made accessible and adapted for those with special needs without destroying the historical nature of the buildings and equipment but the attitude is 'it's history and your kind wasn't accomodated back then so we won't do it either.'

Along with a real trial to find a good, accessible room in Jasper and the afterthought of the wheelchair seating at the hockey game, it's getting a bit hard to ignore (as was the inaccessible subway in Toronto a few years back).

We hope that Canada, which is a wonderful country populated with wonderful people, can address some of these shortfalls soon. We can say that the transit in Calgary, the sidewalks, hotels, and many other attractions are greatly accessible but there are still a few glaring examples out there that need improvement.

Well, we don't want to knock it when so much else is perfectly fine so we'll end today's report here and get back with some more accessible adventures on the next one. At least they only charged us for one ticket.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

TRANSIT REPORT: Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Calgary is the 3rd largest city in Canada. It has a well-defined city core, which helps in transit planning.

The transit system here is made up of three components. The C-Train is the system's light rail service. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) serves future, planned light rail line routes, and local bus service makes up the rest.

The C-Train has two lines but acts like four lines converging on downtown...the Red and the Blue.

The Red Line reaches Tuscany in the northwest portion of the city, transits through downtown, then continues on to Somerset in the southeast section of the city. 

The Blue Line covers the other two points on the compass, coming from Saddletowne in the northeast to 69th Street in the southwest after going through downtown.

Each car on the C-Train has a dedicated door for wheelchairs/walkers/scooters. There is no designated spots on platforms where these doors line up with so you need to watch the train as it arrives to determine a) which door has the wheelchair symbol on it and b) where you need to go.

The accessible doors have a well-marked button that you press, which deploys a ramp so you can wheel in from the platform onto the train.

Both trains travel down 7th Avenue in downtown Calgary where they share eight stations from City Hall in the east to 8th Street in the west.

There are five BRT routes. BRT serves the airport but C-Train doesn't. Line 300 is the airport line, 301 comes in from North Pointe, 302 Comes from Cranston Avenue south of the city, 305 goes from Olympic Park in the west to Ellison Lake in the east, 306 travels from Westbrook Centre, just west of downtown, to Heritage Station south of town. All BRT lines, with the exception of 306, converge on the downtown corridor.

160 local bus lines reach the rest of the city.

All the buses are wheelchair accessible.

Local fare (in CDN) is $3.25.The airport line (300) is $10.00, which is basically a day pass since it is the same price and allows you access to all transit in Calgary. As stated, a day pass is $10.  The downtown zone on the C-Train between City Hall and Downtown West/Kerby is free.

Find more information here: Calgary Transit

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 13, 2017

Take Me To The River: A Surprise Calgary Riverwalk

Previously, we toured the Canadian Rockies...catch up at that link.

We don't really have a lot planned out for our time in the city of Calgary. Last night's train ride through some of the dingier blocks of downtown kind of put a damper on things. Our biggest plans are to see a hockey game at the Saddledome, an arena that is visible from our hotel window.

Watch the Video!

Deciding that we should get out and about, plus it'd be nice to know where we need to go, we hop on the C-Train (Calgary's light rail) for one stop to the Stampede stop.

This deposits us at the edge of the fairgrounds that host the world's largest outdoor rodeo each summer. Today, it's a ghost town of closed buildings and empty parking lots. We notice it's quite a walk from the train station to the Saddledome at the other side of the grounds, about as far as if we'd walked all the way from our hotel.

Walking around the arena, we notice that the building is a bit dated and access ramps are not to be seen. We're guessing there must be elevators inside. That is something we'll have to find out tomorrow when we return for the game.

Blowing tumbleweeds would not have been out of place here, so empty, and a bit windswept on this cool Canadian morning. I pull out my phone to see a map of the area to see if there's see while we're here. It's way to early to return to the hotel for the day.

I notice that there's a river on the map behind the Saddledome. I tell Letty and Tim that we should go over there and, if nothing else, we can get some river pictures.

At the far end of the parking lot behind the arena is a pedestrian bridge. We go out, take some pictures (great fall colors on the day we're there, by the way), and notice a park on the other side.

Another map on the other end of the bridge let's us know that there's a walking path that continues down this river, the Elbow River, all the way to it's confluence with the Bow River and beyond to downtown Calgary.  We might as well follow it and see where it leads.

First thing we notice is the fine view we have of the Saddledome that we just left.

Next, moving just a little downstream on the river, it's a spectacular skyline view of Calgary.

ENMAX Park, the riverside area we're walking through, is much nicer than the down-in-the-dumps stretch of downtown we were in last night. This is much more of the Calgary we thought we'd see.

The bridge into the Inglewood neighborhood shows us a block of pubs and shops we'll need to explore later. 

Walking under a moving train crossing the bridge overhead, we get to the end of the Elbow River.

A pedestrian bridge provides a great viewing platform to see the merge of the two rivers.

To the left, a windmill and a garden mark the spot of Fort Calgary, the Mounties post where the city was founded.

We've got some time, so we go in and check out the museum here. It's twelve dollars (Canadian) to enter, although your AAA card will get you an additional discount. After paying, the counter lady gives us a brochure and I start to walk away.

"Wait, we're not done," she admonishes.


"No, I have to explain some things to you first."

With that, she tells us which direction we need to explore the museum and, as a special exhibit today, not to miss the original Treaty 7 which is on display here for a very short time.

Treaty 7 is the treaty between the British and several First Nation governments...mainly the Blackfoot tribe...delineating what would belong to each group and the price the British would pay to the natives for encroaching on their land.

Although it's been violated several times since it's adoption in 1877, it's still the basic governing document of this area of Canada.  It's kind of like a constitution of the area.

She also tells me we're allowed to photograph and film anywhere we want in the museum except that pictures and video of Treaty 7 are off limits.

We wander through, seeing exhibits on how the bison used to sustain the population. How they were decimated when the Europeans arrived. How the First Nations people suffered when diseases and whiskey were introduced.

The fort was an outpost for the Canadian government and the Mounted Police (the Mounties) and the soldiers, families, and support personnel eventually spread out into the surrounding area, becoming what we now know as the city of Calgary.

Inside, we see recreations of a telegraph office and a house of the era. 

I throw Tim inside a recreation of the post's jail. Calgary's Palace theatre is recreated here and shows videos on the history of Calgary.

Tim and I board a replica street car before we have to leave.

With that, we're only a few blocks from the hotel where we go to meet up with a friend and have a beer at the little pop-up beer garden nextdoor.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 12, 2017

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Live! Canadian Whiskey Taste Off

We'll be going live in a few minutes for today's cocktail hour on our Facebook page...well, now that's ended.

Here's the video from today's live Canadian themed Whiskey Taste Off Cocktail Hour...

Watch the Video!

Clearance Wine sale from $4.99 Shop Now

Friday, November 10, 2017

Coming Down from a Rocky Mountain High: Moving on to Calgary

Catch up below:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

After several nights of great, cozy sleep and enjoying the natural attractions of Jasper National Park, it's time to move on from the mountains and come down to the big city. While we took all day to make a stop-filled, scenic trek up to Jasper, today we're just moving as fast as we can.

We make a quick, unscheduled stop to take pictures of the magnificent Weeping Wall falls along the Icefields Parkway and to stop for some expensive gasoline at Saskatchewan Crossing.

The lonely highway gets decidedly less so as we come back into the crowds of Lake Louise where a four-lane expressway will take us the rest of the way to Calgary.

For some reason, our car's GPS unit doesn't have our hotel loaded into it's files (other Homewood Suites in the city are) but I know it's just east of City Hall so that is our destination where I can easily find it once we're there.

Watch the Video!

This causes no end of consternation from the unit which keeps admonishing me to make a u-turn and go back when I get to the hotel.

I pull up into the valet but no one is coming out to get the car. Letty and Tim disembark. I put the luggage in the lobby and park in the public pay lot across the street which saves me from $13-31 a day, depending on which day of the week it is. Valet costs $35 per day, the lot $22 on weekdays and $4 on weekends.

I take note of the website on the back of the parking lot ticket which let's me keep up on paying for the parking online, saving me a ton of time and money (future travel tip in the making?).

Once inside, the desk agent is a bit off the game not giving me the perks of my Hilton membership but right now, I'm tired and want to get to the room. I make a note to come back later to discuss that.

A gentleman now comes up as I have the luggage trolley loaded up and heading to the elevator wanting to know if I want to valet park the car. I tell him I did but it's a little late for that now.

The room is good. We have a view of the Saddledome Arena where we'll be taking in a hockey game later this week. We all have our own queen size bed to sleep in, Tim's is the sofabed in the living room while Letty and I are in the bedroom (as he's gotten older, Tim really likes to have his own room when traveling).

Looking out and down from the window, I see a little shipping container park has been set up next door. We'll have to check that out.

Once we get settled in, we decide to look over the nearby area of downtown Calgary. The desk clerk tells us that the light rail system is free in the downtown area so we hop a train at the nearby station.

We travel about three stations down. The C-Train, as Calgary's light rail is called, goes along 7th Avenue.

Letty's getting depressed. The buildings here seem to be all boarded up and stray pieces of litter blow coldly along the street. Far from looking interesting, this piece of downtown looks like it withered up and went away.

We walk over to another block and, while the scenery changes for the better, it still looks abandoned (this is late on a Thursday afternoon).

Things are not looking up at the moment so we retire back to the hotel where a light dinner is being served. A salad with no dressing, bread with no butter, and some uninspired pasta to go along with lemonade and tea. Ugh.

This is not how you want to start off a stay at a destination.

"How about a drink to take the edge off?" I ask my wife and Tim.

We go over to the container park next door where a local craft brewery (National Brewing) has set up a little pop-up beer garden.

A couple of cold ones, a relaxing atmosphere...well, as relaxing as you can get with a loud hip-hop group freestyling onstage...and a little laugh at it all help to put a smile on our faces.

We'll go back to the hotel, rest up, and see if we can find a brighter side of Calgary starting tomorrow.

Darryl Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick
Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

ADVENTURES CLOSE TO HOME: In Search of the Mythical Good, Cheap, Steak Dinner

Went to a restaurant not so long ago and the steak entree's were well north of $50. While I admit, there are places where you get every penny's worth at those prices, a lot of times I just don't want to take the gamble.

A little while back, I saw an article looking for the best dollar slice of pizza in New York. With that inspiration, we're looking for the best steak dinner in our little area of Southern California (San Gabriel Valley/Pasadena area) for under $15.

For most people, Sizzler would be their first bet. Just a couple of their steaks come in under $15 and I am completely underwhelmed by their blandness. One side is included but if you want to take advantage of the one thing that really stands out at Sizzler, their soup, salad, and dessert bar, you're going to add $5 to that price and take it beyond our limit.

My friend Rudy Castrellon runs Rudy's Mexican Restaurant in Monrovia with lot's of good food under our limit but his ribeye steak dinner (called carne asada steak on the menu) is a generous cut of very good ribeye. Since it's a Mexican restaurant, it's served with rice, beans, and guacamole instead of potatoes but you can ask them to substitute potatoes for the beans. At $14.50, this delicious steak is a grand bargain. Oh, and it's also the home of one of the Top Three Margaritas in Southern California.

During my childhood, my parents would take us to a local chain called Steak Corral now and again. A western themed, budget steak house, I remember them being pretty good and looking forward to our visits. Recently, I found there was a lone survivor down in Whittier so my wife and I went to try it. The prices are very low...ribeye is $12.95...and you get a salad, cheese bread, and your choice of potato to go with it. The cheese bread was very good, can't say anywhere near the same for anything else but they do have an extensive condiment bar to add some taste to the lifeless slab of cow on your plate.

Speaking of cowboy themes, Steer 'n Ale...hard by the Rosemead Boulevard South exit of the 210 Freeway...looks like it could have been pulled directly out of Knott's Berry Farm. Come on a Tuesday and you can get their New York steak dinner with soup or salad, cheese bread, choice of potato, and dessert for $11.95. While they did go downhill for awhile with new owners, a new manager has brought the place back up to snuff and you get a very good cut of meat brought out sizzling on an extremely hot metal plate (the server really means it when she tells you the plate is hot, let it cool a few minutes first). Very good meal at an excellent price.

At the Monrovian in Monrovia (across the street from Rudy's, above), you'll be fine if you realize it's a spiffed up Greek diner and not a fancy dinner house. While most things on the menu are satisfactory, there are a few dishes that they excel in...anything Greek, their chicken fried steak, chile verde, and salmon for example. Come on Friday night for their prime rib dinner at $14.95 and you'll get a very juicy and tender slab along with a very good salad, potato, dinner roll, and dessert.

So, which are the best? First, let's eliminate two. Sizzler and Steak Corral. Love the atmosphere of Steak Corral but, let's face it, the namesake entree leaves a lot to be desired.

The remaining three are awfully close to each other in quality.

The Monrovian's prime rib is darn good and it's complete salad-to-dessert. Small substitutions are allowed (like veggies instead of potato) and you can take the dessert to go, if you wish.

Steer 'n Ale is also complete through dessert and is the cheapest of the three best at $11.95. Like Monrovian's prime rib, however, it's only available one night per week.

Rudy will serve you his outstanding ribeye anytime you want and the tasty beans and guacamole give it another leg up, as does one of their great margaritas on the side, so I'll give a slight edge to his version over the other two but you will not go wrong at any of the top three.

There are also several restaurants that take their steaks to an even higher plane for just a few dollars more. We'll cover them in a future post.

Copyright 2015 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 6, 2017

On Top of the World! Jasper Skytram - Alberta, Canada

Catch up below:
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

This journey to the top of the world didn't exactly start at the bottom. We're around 3,500 feet in elevation at our cabin by the Athabasca River. It's not exactly chilly this morning as I cook breakfast but we imagine on top of the nearby Whistlers Peak it will be cold so we put on our thermal underwear, take our down jackets, and the beanies that Letty had knitted for us before the trip.

Watch the Video!

After three days of sketchy accessibility and parking on our daily adventures, it's nice to great handicapped parking right at the entrance of the Jasper Skytram. Tim goes up the big ramp to the ticket office and gift shop while I buy the tickets.

We have about twenty minutes until our allotted time (they call it a 'flight' and you're given a flight number). Tim picks out a shirt in the gift shop, which will be held for us until we return, and we spend a minute looking at the machinery that runs the tram.

The operator lets Tim on first when it's time to leave. It's pretty easy for him to roll on board. After the rest of the passengers step on board, we're off while the operator tells us about the tram and the scenery we're seeing as we go up.

Seven minutes later, we're exiting the tram at the upper station. A combination of paved trail and boardwalk let's Tim wander around this section of mountaintop near the upper lodge. 

We take in the sights, take some pictures, and look down on our cabin, several thousand feet below next to the ribbon of the river.

I point out Mt. Robson, the tallest of the Canadian Rockies, to Tim. It's over in the distance in British Columbia.

Most of this upper chalet is accessible but the restaurant is upstairs and we can't reach it so we browse the gift shop, take some more video and pictures, then queue up to take the tram back down.

Back in town, we do a little shopping before retiring to the Whistle Stop Pub, a friendly little joint across from the train station that Tim bugged us to try. I'm glad he did because it's a neat place to hang out with the locals before heading back to the cabin.

Our cabin resort has it's own gourmet restaurant that we've neglected to try. Since this is our last night here, we decide to give it a go. 

A table by the front window gives us a view of the Athabasca River and a herd of elk decide to wander across the far bank.

The chef has a special of locally caught wild boar, which we take advantage of. Tomahawk style chops come out, filling us up very nicely before we retire back in the cabin for the night.

Tomorrow, we check out and head back down the Icefields Parkway to finish up our trip in Calgary.

Darryl Musick

Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved

Photos by Letty Musick

Copyright 2017 - All Rights Reserved